Progress in curing Alzheimer's sometimes seems painfully slow, especially if you have a loved one with the disease. But even as new, promising drugs are being tested, researchers are learning more about Alzheimer's and its potential victims.
Because two-thirds of seniors diagnosed with Alzheimer's are women, the conventional wisdom has been that women are disproportionately victims of the disease simply because they live longer. But new research is pointing in another direction. "It's not just longevity," says Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs at the Alzheimer's Association. "There seems to be real biological differences between men and women that explain the difference."
The disease appears to take a heavier, quicker toll on women. Women with mild cognitive impairment -- often a precursor of Alzheimer's -- decline twice as fast as men with the same condition. This was one of several groundbreaking studies presented last month at the Alzheimer's Association 2015 International Conference in Washington, D.C.
Other studies added to the already well-documented research that healthy living can lower your risk of Alzheimer's. "Do these things that you know are healthy for your lifestyle -- getting regular exercise, keeping mentally active, staying socially active, getting lots of sleep, eating right," Fargo says. "These things are going to decrease your risk for cognitive decline and dementia." For a list of the most protective lifestyle choices gathered by the association, go to nwsdy.li/brain.
But while a cure is still nowhere near, researchers at the convention presented data on new drugs that may slow the disease or stop it from getting worse.
"We may be entering an era where instead of only treating the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease we may actually be able to make a dent in the progression of the underlying disease in the brain," Fargo says. Because the drugs still have to pass rigorous testing and get government approval, they won't be available for at least 18 months and probably longer, Fargo says.
Many recent advances have come about because of research done with volunteers, but Fargo notes it is not easy to find participants for studies. Fargo oversees TrialMatch, the Alzheimer's Association program that connects volunteers with clinical trials. If you or a loved one would like to volunteer for clinical research, go to alz.org/trialmatch or call 800-272-3900. Researchers are looking for patients with Alzheimer's or cognitive impairment and healthy people. The website is continually updated, so if there are no trials scheduled near you, keep checking back.